Tuesday, March 14, 2006

BlogHer @ SXSW: Respect Your ElderBloggers

Here's my recap of this terrific session, featuring:

Lori Bitter
Ronni Bennett

Lori: The three things we want to cover are:

1. Why reaching out to the elder market is good business
2. Why it's a social good
3. What needs to change as far as products, services and marketing

Lori starts by throwing up some brief slides illustrating the size and composition of the elder market. Usually BlogHer frowns a bit on PowerPoint, but n this case it really was easier to picture what she was talking about by seeing it.

Basically, the number of elderly in our population is going way up. By the year 2030 20% of our population will be over 60.

Other key points:

-The elderly are not either poor or wealthy...there is a great middle where they may be cash-poor but have assets.

-The baby boomers did not have enough children to provide sufficient "informal" caregivers.

Ronni: Blogging and other online opportunities will revolutionaize what old age can and will be. She quotes someone I didn't catch:
If you are unsung, sing
If you are unflung, fling

That's what blogging is about.

When you retire your world immediately shrinks, plus with familis dispersing and friends dying, the world shrinks even further. Blogging and online interaction can stop and reverse that shrinkage.

Ronni mentions a neurological study that shos why blogging is good for helping elders retain mental acuity.

The Blogging Brain is engaged in:
-Critical Thinking
-Intuitive Thinking
-Analogical Thinking
-Exposure to quality thinking by others
-A combination of solitary reflection and social interaction

When Ronni polled her ElderBlogger friends the number one benefit of blogging was Friendship.

We are healthier when are minds are engaged...healthier both mentally and physically.

Some other key facts from Ronni:

-When she was young children were still dying of diseases like polio, whooping cough, diptheria etc. Now health care dollars are shifted to taking care of us in our last years.

-<1% of MDs are board-certified geriatricians

-80% of elders actually live independently, so it's not just a matter of getting a computer in every retirement community, but in every elder's home.

What could computer access be used for besides hooking them into social interaction:

-Monitoring vital signs
-Medical questions

So the market for products with imrpoved design and usability isn't just for the elders, but also for the somewhat technologically-resistant medical community.

Clinton spearheaded an outreach program (government and corporate) to put computers in every classroom. In ten years that penetration is at about 90%. Need the same thing for elders. Not just equipment, also training.

Lori: Mature work force. People don't want to retire based on some arbitrary retirement age devised in the 30s. Most of these people may quit working, but they will do something.

Microsoft had announced an initiative for Adaptive technologies, but there is no sign of it to be found on their site.

There is no rallying cry around elders like there have been around children.

Audience member Dan, a social worker: HR departments are not really equipped to handle 4 generations in the workforce. Also octogenarians think government is going to take care of them...big pitch for consumder directed health care.

Audience member, Sue Thomas: In her university in England there is a department of mechatronics. Working on building sensors into buildings, so alerts would go off if vital signs changed. However, there is resistance bcause people don't want to feel Big brother is watching. Blogging can be an acculturation to the online connection.

Ronni: While there are pograms that give high school and college credits for training elders, a recent British study indicated that elders learned best when taught by really youngchildren, like 5-8 years old.

She then introduces Steve Garfield to talk about his mom, Millie, an octogenarian blogger.

Millie knew how to type, and after seeing an article 3-4 years ago about blogs Millie asked her son about them. So he set her up. At first when she gots comments she though "who are these people?" But those people became her friends.

Millie says: her physical friends don't listen. Everyone is just waiting to say their piece. But in the blogosphere people read her and listen to her more. Throughout her day Millie is constantly taking mental notes and always thinking about how to blog her life (as are we all, no?) but it keeps her mind very active.

All of the postive comments and emails are a kind of reinforcement and encouragement she never got as a mom or a secretary.

Audience member, Baratunde: His mom is concerned about security, but she got a PowerBook and just loved it. Now she wants to podcast...she is communicating with the world.

Ronni: Equipment elders can use already exists for disabled market:
-Foot mice
-Head mice
-ABC rather than qwerty keyboards

But they're prohibitively expensive.

Audience member, Lisa Williams: Elders and children get hand-me-down gear, when they should get the best and the newest. In her town they don't have enough children for all the school buildings, so they are turning them into age-restricted housing, and in one notable case into a half-school, half-age-restricted housing complex.

Audience member, Donna Fulton from Austin: Her parents were techy, but don't know blogging. She and her siblings have noticed that her parents are making lots of trips to the doctor's office, and they've begun to think it's more for the social interaction than that there are things wrong with them.

Ronni: Brings up Negroponte's $99 computer...it's not just the cost, but the simplicity.

How do we make it happen?

Audience member, Betsy Devine: Start in one locality and show the business community that it works and has value.

Audience member, Marshall Poe: Works for Atlantic Monthly. Their readers are mostly elders. If they had a way to engage their readers' interest and dollars the business community would run. They've had difficulty engaging.

Other ideas that have been tried:

Sue Thomas: Cape Cod bank in late 90s offered free email lessons to elders.
Lori: Seniornet started out by focusing on garage sale junkies and getting them engaged with eBay.
Audience Member: Travelocity program with AARP.
Audience Member: Non-profit that offers computer training to adults, not just elders.

Ronni: I'm forgotten. Everything is about the incipient baby boomers.
I've never been smarter, but the world doesn't think I'm smart anymore.

Audience member, Sam Taylor: Media makes the Internet into something to fear because they fear it.

Audience Member Laura Blankenship: 1. Partner with colleges and universities...professors are aging too. 2. Colleges are also the place where lots of open source work gets done.

Audience Member Jim Forad: He's 64, and his mom is in an assisted living facility. Dell has a large icon touch screen. People are very afraid of seeming stupid or being treated in a patronizing manner. He has a site, BoomerVote.com (which I couldn't find) wants to use online to politically mobilize. Thinks the right wing has done a better job of mobilizing elders.

Audience Member Halley Suitt: She has had cataracts since the age of 16. Everything is so frustrating...small screens, especially on mobile devices. But even her microwave.
I cook dinner using 5 Popcorns, because that's the only lettering large enough for me to see!

Audience Member John: He's 63 years old. He manages computers for his partner's parents. They have a remote access program, so he can monitor and troubleshoot.

Lisa Williams: She applied for a grant to make her siteaccessible for the blind, not even realizing it would help elders too.

Lori: A big fan of David Wolf ("Ageless Marketing" who is a proponent of ageless design. Not so different conceptually than universal design in architecture and interior design.

Lori: The importance of storytelling...aids "neuroplasticity." Telling stories is vitall important for thsoe over 40.

Raines Cohen: lives in a co=housing development and has learned a lot from elders.

Marshall Poe: Mentions his site MemoryWiki.org (For posting oral histories and stories.

Jim: MacMini is cheap. And Macs aren't prone to get inundated with spyware!

Great session! So much audience participation. I wish more dvelopers had been in the room to hear it and tell us how they're (of if they're) addressing these issues.

Coincidentally: on the plane home last night I was seated next to a 77 year old woman. She worked at National Semi until the age of 72. She goes to her local senior center to take computer classes. She's heard of blogging but isn't doing it.

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